A Virgin Galactic plane reached the edge of space Saturday morning and successfully landed back on Earth, the company’s first manned test flight to space in more than two years, bringing Virgin Galactic a step closer to its goal of flying tourists into space.
- Two pilots flew the VSS Unity spaceplane to an altitude of over 55 miles — powered by a larger carrier plane for most of the journey — and then glided back down to a runway in New Mexico, the company said in a Saturday afternoon statement.
- The test marks Virgin Galactic’s third successful flight to space using its SpaceShipTwo design, and the first space flight from the company’s new base in New Mexico, years after Virgin Galactic first flew to the edge of space in late 2018 and early 2019.
- The company has suffered setbacks in some previous tests: A plane crashed in a 2014 incident later blamed on human error, killing one pilot and injuring another, and it safely aborted a planned flight last December after the engine cut out.
- Saturday’s test was the 400th commercial space flight licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration, the federal agency announced.
Virgin Galactic was founded in 2004 by Richard Branson, a British executive whom Forbes estimates is worth $4.3 billion, and the company went public in 2019. Its goal is to eventually fly paying customers into suborbital space, allowing them to see Earth from their seats and enjoy a brief period of weightlessness. It hopes to bring its first tourists into space by early 2022, a one-year delay from the company’s earlier timeline. Virgin Galactic is competing against Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, which hopes to send tourists into space in July, and Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which has contracted with NASA to carry cargo into space and is also vying to offer tourist flights.
$250,000. That’s how much money Virgin Galactic plans on charging its first commercial passengers. It’s a steep price for a few minutes at the edge of space, but the company says 600 have already put down deposits for a spot in line.
“Space travel is a bold and adventurous endeavor, and I am incredibly proud of our talented team for making the dream of private space travel a reality,” Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier said in a statement Saturday.
Virgin Galactic shares closed at $21.07 Friday, up 28% jump on the week, partly in anticipation of Saturday’s test flight, after sliding sharply over the past few months from an all-time high of $62.80 hit in February.